Tag Archives: 1960s

About the Last Decade…

“I saw the decade in,

When it seemed the world could change,

At the blink of an eye.”

Jesus Jones – “Right Here, Right Now

I have to wonder what is it about this last decade that makes it unique.  How do we define the 2010s?  It seems to be a modern quandary.  Since the 1920s, the United States – and perhaps, much of the world – has viewed itself in terms of decades.  Every ten-year period for the past century has been defined by certain cultural and political events and movements.

The 1920s were known as the “Roaring 20s” and the “Jazz Age”.  It was a decade of extraordinary prosperity, the maturity of the film industry, jazz bands, raccoon coats, flappers, bootleggers and marathon dancers.  The 1930s were dominated by the “Great Depression”; a calamitous effect of those “Roaring 20s”.  It also became renowned for the equally disastrous “Dust Bowl”, bank robbers, the rise of fascism in Europe and many precursors to World War II.

The 1930s started as the previous decade came to an end and spilled into the 1940s, which then became known as the “War Years”; its connection to the Second World War sealed in blood and stone.  Sorrow and patriotism marked that period, but hope also rose up from the sands of despair.  American dominance across the globe began to take shape in that decade.

The 1950s saw the greatest economic expansion in modern world history, as a new “Middle Class” took control of the American experience.  The Second World War metastasized into the Cold War, as Communism began rampaging across Europe.  The Korean War was a brutal stain on this time of prosperity, which also became known for a dual sense of conformity and fear.  The various civil rights movements that would dominate the latter half of the 20th century began fomenting in the 1950s.

The 1960s were a cataclysm of generational clashes, which started with the election of John F. Kennedy.  The decade commenced as a mirror of the previous decade.  But all of the chaos that defined the 60s had begun rumbling in the 50s, like a volcanic caldera.  People who had done everything possible to secure their right to freedom and happiness exploded with anger that they had achieved little in many respects.  Their hostility shocked the staid American populace, as the decade also saw the space race take shape; political assassinations; the Vietnam War; drug and sex revolutions; and finally, a man on the moon.

The 1970s began as an extension of the 60s, but it saw an explosion of artistry in music, television, cinema and literature.  It also experienced cultural and technological innovations.  On the down side, it was scarred by the first resignation of president in U.S. history; a humiliating end to the Vietnam conflict; energy crises; and finally, an even more humiliating hostage situation with Iran.

While the 60s were often called the “We Decade” and the 70s the “Me Decade”, the 1980s became the “Gimme Decade”; a time when greed became good, hair and women’s shoulder pads grew large and overpriced meals grew small.  It spawned the “MTV Generation” and saw the VCR become ubiquitous in American households.  It also experienced the rise of one of the greatest health crises in world history, as AIDS exploded.

The 1990s remains my personal favorite.  Although it began with the “Savings & Loan” crisis and the Persian Gulf War, we underwent economic growth that eclipsed the 1950s and an explosion of technology unmatched in modern history.  The 90s saw multiculturalism and the fruits of affirmative action; DNA science; the collapse of the Soviet Union; right-wing paranoia; and Y2K.

The first two decades of the 21st century, however, seem almost indistinguishable.  The horror of 9/11; a resurgence of patriotism; U.S.-led Middle East conflicts; and the “Great Recession” defined the first ten years.  But, if we had to classify the 2010s, how would we so it?  What would we say?

I feel it’s been almost a complete reversal of two centuries of civil rights progress.  The birth of the “Tea Party” in 2010 wasn’t so much a vitriolic dissatisfaction with the tax system in the U.S. (Taxed Enough Already), but rather, the election of the nation’s first biracial president.  That seemed to upend all that was considered normal in this country; an obliteration of long-held norms.  The “Tea Party” boasted a few Asian, Black and Hispanic members; all tokens working on behalf of the Old White Male, who went from just ‘angry’ to downright ‘enraged’.  So-called “birtherism” mixed with the complete and total disrespect Republican politicians had for Barack Obama.  In response, Republican-dominated state legislatures (including my beloved Texas) became determined to dismantle decades of voting rights by limiting early voting periods and enhancing voter identification methods; all in an attempt to undermine a mythical rash of voter fraud.  In reality, they were just appalled that a Negro (a half-blooded one, but a Negro nonetheless) could make it into the highest political office in the land.  Fortunately, they’ve been stalled by various judges at almost every step.  In retaliation for the Obama years, many voters became determined to get just about any old White man into the White House.  Thus, we ended up with the cantankerously disoriented Donald Trump.  I told myself repeatedly during the disastrous George W. Bush years that I’m not ashamed to be an American.  But Trump’s tenure has made that sentiment exceptionally difficult.

As with any serious economic downturn, the “Great Recession” made America turn inwards during the last decade; with non-Whites and immigrants suffering the usual brunt of antagonism and fear.  What should have been a time of extraordinary prosperity – coming off the 1990s – mutated into lackluster economic growth in the 2000s and ardent despair in the 2010s.  Literally millions of people lost their jobs, homes and savings, as the large corporations (particularly the monstrous financial institutions) that fueled the near-total collapse got bailed out.  And – with a few high-profile exceptions – no one went to jail.  Where was my tax relief?

The trickle-down economics bullshit that forms the basis of conservative financial ideology got a steroid-type boost with the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and intense deregulation of those dreaded banks.  That furthered the expansion of wealth inequality that makes the “Gilded Age” look juvenile.  The “Gilded Age” – to anyone wary enough – created an anarchist movement that took root in the slums of Europe and Latin America before seeping into the U.S.  It came close to a rebirth with “Occupy Wall Street”, but I still believe a full-fledged revolt is possible.

I guess how we define any period in our lives is how we define ourselves.  If we like where we are in life, then times are good.  It’s always purely subjective.  As introverted as I am and as pessimistic as I may seem to some, I still hope the 2020s experience an eruption of more progressive national ideologies; such as advances in science and medicine and greater funding for education and health care, instead of war and tax breaks for a select privileged few.  Where we go from here is often dependent more on our own aspirations than on fate and acts of God.  The sun hasn’t set on hope, if we look at hope as concept ahead and not behind.

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Worst Quote of the Week – December 6, 2019

“We have got to go back to what we did back in the ’60s and ’70s, back to a moral basis.  We had abortion laws in our state.  We did not have same-sex marriage.  We did not have transgender rights.  Sodomy was illegal.  These things were just not around when my classmates and I went to West Point and Vietnam.”

– U.S. Senate candidate and former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, during a recent campaign stop

To put things in greater perspective – and remind anyone who might have forgotten – Moore is the same cantankerous leech who was actually banned from a shopping mall in Alabama for approaching too many teenage girls.  Then again, the photo above with Moore holding his little pistol, might explain one reason for his angst.

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Civil Righting

the-constitution

Back in 2002, my then-roommate, Tom,* and I got into a discussion about racial and gender equality.  I stated that all of the various civil rights movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, starting with the abolitionist movement, were necessary to instigate change and make America live up to its declaration as a truly free and inclusive nation.  Tom merely shook his head no in a condescending fashion and said, “Nah,” later adding that eventually people would have “come around” and realize discrimination was wrong.

I looked at him like the fool he was and asked him if he sincerely believed that.  He said he did.  I then recounted the story of my father’s return from Korea in the mid-1950s.  He had been drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to the front lines in the midst of the Korean War.  Among the many friends he made were a large contingent of Black soldiers.  By then, the U.S. armed forces had been forcibly integrated, so a mix of ethnic groups comprised all the various military units.  My father didn’t serve his full two-year stint, as the war ended sooner than most anyone had expected.  He and several of his fellow soldiers arrived in Seattle via ship and then boarded a train to head to their various home cities.  My father was confused when his Black team mates started walking away from.  He called out to them, asking where they were going.  One told him they were headed towards the rear caboose – where Black people had to sit.  As he watched his friends, his brothers-in-arms, saunter down the platform, my father said to himself, “Oh yea, we’re back in America – land of the free.”

Tom just sort of looked at me, not knowing what to say.  He conceded it was wrong, even then, to force Blacks to sit at the back of a bus or a train.  But, he snapped out of his brief foray into actual reasoning and reiterated that eventually White people would have realized how unfair that was.  In other words, we didn’t bus strikes or protests of any kind.  People should have just waited around, hoping for the better.

No one should have to wait for justice and fairness.  Nobody should be straddled to the rocks of oppression and brutality – hoping, praying and begging for those in positions of power and influence to see the light.  Disenfranchised groups in the U.S. had waited for centuries to be treated with dignity and respect and to be given an equal chance to succeed.

I told someone else around the same time as my conversation with Tom that the 1960s exploded with anger and rage because patience had finally run out.  They’d done everything that had been asked of them: they served in the military; they worked hard; they cleaned homes and streets; they obeyed the laws (no matter how discriminatory they were); they tried as best to keep to themselves – everything.  And, they still weren’t given a fair chance.  Blacks still had to sit at the back of the bus; women still had to change their last names when they got married and still had to have children; Indians still had to live in squalor on reservations; gays and lesbians still had to suppress their true identities.

And so, by the 1960s, everything just sort of erupted at once.  If change didn’t come through peace and hard work, then it had to be forced.  America was compelled to fulfill its proclamation as a nation of freedom and opportunity.  It no longer had a choice in the matter.  The time had come to change – whether some folks liked it or not.

It was curious to hear Tom speak of racial and gender equality and inequality.  He was a mix of German and Cherokee; from a small, nondescript community in far northeast Texas.  We discussed the plight of Indigenous Americans more than once.  He felt that Indians could have fought back against European encroachers because they also had men.  I noted that Europeans had two primary advantages: guns and horses.  Moreover, they’d adopted both gunpowder and horse-riding skills from the Chinese.  Tom wasn’t moved.  And, I told him he now had the distinction of falling into two unique groups: those who aren’t educated about a subject and those who don’t want to be educated.  That’s actually a rarity, but one that persists even now; in this second decade of the 21st century with a biracial U.S. president and a shrinking White majority.

Attitudes really are hard to change.

*Name changed.

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